Na Bon villagers go home after 9 days of protest

The Save Na Bon group is returning home after 9 straight days of protest following a promise from the government to form another committee to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of a project to construct two biomass power plants in their community.

The Save Na Bon protesters sitting in front of the Ministry of Energy.

The villagers came to Bangkok from their home district of Na Bon in Nakhon Si Thammarat on 18 July. They went to the Ministry of Energy to follow up on the promise of an SEA, after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in December 2021 ordered the Ministry of Energy to conduct an SEA after the villagers protested for 10 straight days calling for the power plant project to be halted until a study can be conducted.

Suthee Homdet, 47, said that the villagers came to Bangkok to follow up on the government’s promise to conduct an SEA, as the Ministry of Energy refused to conduct a study despite the order from the Prime Minister, claiming that they cannot do so because the project is small and run by a private company. Suthee said that the community would like to know which agency will be responsible for the SEA, and that they will not be returning home until they get an answer.

Suthee said that in 2017, an agent was buying up land in the Na Bon District, claiming that they would be constructing a market where the villagers could sell their crops. So people sold their land because they believed the community would benefit. However, in 2018, instead of a market, it became known that two biomass powerplants were to be built on the land.

He said that the community does not refuse development, but it should not be done as a large-scale project in which the community does not get to participate, and any project must not destroy the environment or cause problems in the community.

On 21 July, the villagers went to the Crown Property Bureau, which they said is one of the shareholders of the Absolute Clean Energy Company Limited (ACE), the company responsible for the power plant project, seeking an explanation on what the Bureau would do now that it has shares in a company that is causing problems for the public. After waiting near the Bureau for 8 hours, the villagers went to Government House and gathered near the Chamai Maruchet bridge to demand answers from the Government about whether an SEA will be conducted.

Protesters sitting in front of Government House with their wrists tied together (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On Sunday (24 July), the villagers walked from the Chamai Maruchet bridge to Government House, where they sat with their wrists tied together with a long piece of cloth. They sat in front of Government House until around 20.00, when police officers blocked the Chamai Maruchet bridge and the Misakawan Intersection with vans and metal fences, causing concerns that the protest would be forcibly dispersed.

Environmental right activist Prasitchai Nunuan, who is among the protesters, said that the police tried to convince the villagers to leave, but no one was arrested. He said that although the police allowed water to be brought in, food could not be delivered, and no one was allowed to enter the cordoned-off area. He noted that the villagers were being weakened by the conditions, since it had been raining, and they had also sat outside in the sun during the day, causing several people to faint from heat exhaustion.

Prasitchai said that the protesters insisted on their demand, and that they would not leave Government House until their demand was met.

At 20.55, it was reported that food and medicine was allowed to be passed to the protesters via officers stationed in the area.

Police officers blocking the Chamai Maruchet bridge with police vans (Photo by Ginger Cat)

At around 21.10, Prasitchai said that the police came to negotiate with the protesters, telling them that government was going to discuss their demand the next day (25 July), but the protesters insisted that they would stay where they are until their demand was met.

At 13.00 on Monday (25 July), the protesters announced the end of their protest, after they were informed by the Office of the Prime Minister that a new committee would be formed within 15 days to oversee the SEA.

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